Mark Twain supposedly said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand.” He must’ve been thinking of verses like these:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well (Matthew 5:38-40).
Those are tough words.
There’s something instinctive about striking back at people who mistreat us, and it starts early. Watch a two-year-old hit his four-year-old brother, and see what big brother does. Not too many kids walk away from that, much less sit there and expose the other cheek. It doesn’t stop there, though. “Get ‘em back” walks the halls of the local high school and infects every work environment.
A major league pitcher hits the other team’s best hitter, and the opposing pitcher will even the score in the next inning. Somebody at work spreads dirt about you, and payback is hard to pass up.
It feels so good to get even, doesn’t it?
And that’s why these words of Jesus make us cringe. “Turn the other cheek” has become a universally quoted but rarely practiced maxim. Oh, we know we should, and on some level we want to, but it’s just so hard to let people be bad and get away with it. Especially when they’re bad to us and the people we love.
Besides, God wants evil to be punished, right? So can’t I be the one he uses to punish it?
And so the rationalizing goes. Before we know it, we’ll be self-appointed vigilantes settling scores, maybe even in God’s name, all the while ignoring what Jesus said here.
No, he’s not telling us to subject ourselves to physical danger or abuse, but he is opposing the attitude that says “Don’t mess with me because I’ll get you back.”
Are you guilty of this?
Pray about it today. Ask God to help you pursue forgiveness and not vengeance. Ask him to purge your heart of anger and bitterness toward those who’ve hurt you.
Ask him to help you see more clearly how Jesus’ lack of retaliation toward the ones who hated him helps you refuse to strike back.
The danger with phrases like “Turn the other cheek” is that they become so familiar that we forget what they mean. In this case, Jesus is calling us to an unnatural and extremely difficult response to the bad things people do to us.
But Jesus never promised us an easy path.